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Stephanie Castner choreographs an “on pointe” piece

Stephanie Castner choreographed and presented a modern and jazz dance piece for URCAD.

Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day, which was held on April 22, showcased the most gifted and talented UMBC students from many departments including biology, psychology, dance and visual arts.

Douglas Hamby, an associate professor of dance and director of the Linehan Artist Scholars program, introduced a series of choreographed pieces by prestige dance scholars. Stephanie Castner, a junior Linehan Artist Scholar majoring in dance and media and communication studies, shared her piece titled Touched.

Castner has been dancing since she was four years old and has continuously grown as a dancer, student, choreographer and performer. After spending the summer at the Broadway Dance Center in New York City and working alongside professionals in the field for eight weeks, Castner described the influence the experience had on crafting her technique.

Overall, BDC was a great experience for her. “I got to do mock auditions in front of casting directors and agents,” said Castner, “and got to work with world renowned choreographers. It was incredible.” She believes working with such professionals is one of the best ways to improve as a dancer and choreographer.

Sheila Barker and Shelly Hutchinson were two of the mentors and teachers at BDC that served as great influences on Castner’s work. She said, “[Barker] was hard on me, but that was only for the better.”

Castner had worked with Hutchinson multiple times and was happy to be working with her again. She said, “[Hutchinson] gave me the opportunity to be in a piece of hers after my program ended. She inspires me with everything she does, and it was a privilege to work with her.”

Castner believes dance is a competitive field. She said, “I have seen that the dancers who are most successful in their work are those who have a wide array of dance training and who have worked closely with professionals in the field.”

Stylistically, the UMBC dance department is strictly modern. While choreographing Touched, Castner wanted to abandon modern techniques and challenge herself by combining what she learned at BDC with her knowledge from UMBC.

Jazz dance allows for more freedom in movement while modern is more technical. By combining these two different styles, Touched became a rather unique piece compared to other pieces in the UMBC dance department.

Junior dance majors, Nerissa Vasconcells and Ryan Bailey were chosen to perform this piece. “It has been really cool seeing them grow from our first rehearsal, back in September, to our last rehearsal this past Saturday,” said Castner.

Her ultimate goal was to use the skills she learned at BDC to create a piece that investigated the contrast between partnering in modern and jazz dance.

For many dancers, like Castner, performances like these are avenues for getting their names out. It is unknown what the future holds for Stephanie, but after graduating next spring, she hopes to move back to New York City and expand her career in dancing.

She said, “It all depends on who is there, who sees what I can do and who wants to take a chance on me.”